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Sheriff slams prison overhaul; Gov proposes facilities for seniors

Sheriff slams prison overhaul
Gov proposes facilities for seniors
By Laurel J. Sweet and Chris Cassidy | Thursday, January 19, 2012 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Politics
Photo by Matt Stone

Gov. Deval Patrick wants to build two to three assisted-living centers with bars for golden-ager inmates to serve their time in comfort, as part of an ambitious overhaul of the state’s prison system due to be released today, the Herald has learned.

The 400-page Corrections Master Plan obtained by the Herald, though years in the making, was only shown to sheriffs for the first time yesterday by the Division of Capital Asset Management and the Executive Office of Public Safety. It drew immediate criticism.

“There’s no question that the population in the prisons is aging, but prison is prison,” said Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who said he’d rather see Patrick invest taxpayer money in programs to deter people from incarceration, rather than entice aging career criminals or any hard-luck residents into crime with the potentially alluring prospect of a comfortable retirement home and medical care.

“(James) ‘Whitey’ Bulger killed 19 people,” Hodgson said. “I can’t imagine there being too much concern whether he gets assisted living or sits in his cell. No one’s being heartless about this, but do you know how much assisted living costs these days? When we can’t offer those things to a homeless veteran or someone on a fixed income who can’t afford it, what do they do?”

Administration officials yesterday denied that the State House meeting had taken place and declined to discuss the report, which sheriffs said they were told will be released today. Patrick also proposes barring federal prisoners from Bay State pens by 2020, cutting sheriffs off from budget-balancing contracts, handing off “sexually dangerous” inmates to the Department of Mental Health and building regional women’s jails to alleviate overcrowding at MCI-Framingham.

Patrick projects that by 2020 there will be 27,000 inmates in county houses of correction and state prisons, 900 of whom, the report states, “on any given day, would be expected to have medical needs serious enough to be provided a separate living environment.”

Eligible inmates, the report continues, would include those “typically not suitable to be housed in the general population due to their vulnerability and the disproportionate consumption of staff resources they require.”

Patrick’s concept is not new. Assisted-living inmates at the Coyote Ridge Correction Center in Connell, Wash., enjoy shuffleboard, walker- and wheelchair-accessible amenities and even companion dogs.

Essex Sheriff Frank Cousins said, “If they’re suggesting they should have a locked, secure ward for people who are in the last six months or year of their lives for dialysis or a cancer situation … I don’t have a problem with that.” But he said he is concerned about the idea of building a retirement home behind bars.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said, “It seems to be a good first step in a discussion on where corrections is going. The percentage of chronically ill inmates is rising and is a budget-buster. We have an aging prison population. Finding efficiencies in the delivery of health care may be the way to go.”

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1397035

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